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What will be the most important resource after the information age?

by actuallynotaustralian1 min read29th Aug 20215 comments

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The value of resources is defined by them being scarce and unequally distributed. But when nearing an equilibrium state, new resources emerge through the synthesis of previously available ones. One can go as far as saying, and even claim there is a hierarchy of resources. Starting with bare natural resources which can be found in nature, to processed resources that are required to manufacture goods, to any form of manufactured goods self, to information that is required to manufacture and manage the production goods in the first place. Admittingly,  as we all know, we live in the "information age", centered around the latter stage. But what resource will emerge and becomes most important after the information age? 

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4 Answers

Per the Mad Max series of films, gasoline, then water.  

More seriously, "information" stretches the definition of "resource", as it's not scarce per-se, but very hard to absorb and use correctly.  And the resources necessary in previous eras remain quite necessary, just in different quantities and uses.  I'd predict this will continue - there will be future organizations and uses of information that are different today, and it probably won't be called "the information age", so historians can make a living analyzing it, but it'll still be about knowledge and organization of the mechanics of life.

Information is not scarce, but relevant good and not distracting information is scarce in the sense that it is very difficult to separate the grain from the chaff. So good information can be considered scarce independently of it being hard to adsorb or to use correctly, no?

The superintelligent AI, I guess.

I think relevant information of very good quality, meaning not just any information but information with a high signal-to-noise ratio for each person in each moment in time. Or maybe any tool that really helps hiding the information which is not of very high quality, relevance and level for you in any particular moment. I think information overload is the main externality of the information age.

At the end, there are only few main resources: energy (this includes food and water) and (good)knowledge-time-attention. I think knowledge, time and attention form a bundle of resources that are very related but difficult to summarise within a wider resource.

Well, what drives the shifts in what resources define an age?

Accumulation of material reaches a point where more isn't (currently) valuable.

A new resource replaces uses of an old one.

Improved technology makes a resource much cheaper, and accumulation of wealth and industrial base make production/scarcity of a resource no longer a limiting factor in most cases.

As @Dagon noted, in some sense "information," once it exists at all, is not scarce, and is already easy to replicate and distribute. But 1) we don't have all the information we could want, and 2) we don't (know how to) use it effectively. The former is a matter of research+sensors+any other data collection (solvable through hardware and personnel), the latter is a problem of intelligence/data science/analysis/data access/knowing what we want.

Society is doing...not a great job, but an ok one, recognizing the importance of the former and investing in it. We still kinda suck at the latter which is related to this site's focus on both AI and alignment, and these seem like a strong candidate for the next limiting factor that could define an age. 

Alternatively, that could turn out not to be a big deal (we get AI right, at which point cheap copying and hardware make AI scarcity not a thing). At that point we should have enough know-how to collect enough matter for or needs and continuously process and recycle it into whatever forms we want. It seems like we then go back to energy being the limiting factor in running our machines - securing supply and dissipating waste heat.